I have a confession to make. I gave up on Johnny Langan after last season.
I didn’t think we’d ever see him play meaningful minutes in a Rutgers football game again. His toughness was unquestionable and the job he did last season was admirable. I just didn’t think he had the talent, specifically the arm, to be a FBS quarterback, let alone one for a power five program. While Langan will never set any passing records, his ability as a football player is his greatest asset.
Our David Anderson wrote a heartfelt tribute to Langan and Nunzio Campanile before this season for what they brought to the program during a dark period before Schiano’s hiring. I loved it and felt it was a rightful ode to the job Langan did. I didn’t expect there would be a reason to salute him ever again and yet just six games into the season, Langan deserves a standing ovation, even if it is virtually, for his performance in leading Rutgers (2-4) to a stunning 37-30 upset victory over Purdue (2-3).
Head coach Greg Schiano explained the quarterback situation and why starter Noah Vedral didn’t start, saying “Noah actually got hurt during the game last week and then during the week we were trying to figure out if he was going to be able to go.” He continued, “It went as late as kickoff tonight, just to see if he could do it. He can do it, but I don’t know if he can do it at a competitive level. We kept pushing it to see, and at game-time we made the decision to go with Art (Sitkowski). And I thought Art stepped up and Johnny (Langan) stepped up and they did a great job.”
Sitkowski deserves a lot of credit for his performance as well, especially based on the last minute circumstance as to whether he would start or not. He led Rutgers to touchdowns on the first two drives of the game, both 14 yard passes to Shameen Jones. Sitkowski wasn’t as effective the rest of the way, but he finished the game having completed 18 of 27 passes for 142 yards and zero turnovers. Without that strong start to the game, Langan likely wouldn’t have had a chance to be the second half hero.
With Rutgers trailing 23-13 at the half, Schiano and offensive coordinator decided to give Johnny Langan an opportunity outside of his usual role in a red zone package on the first drive out of the break. He had thrown only five passes all season before this game, all completions, including one touchdown, but for a net passing total of -1 yards. On first and 15 from the Rutgers 38 on the fifth play of the drive, Langan found running back Kay’Ron Adams streaking across the middle of the field and hit him in stride. Adams had too much speed to be caught and scored a 62 yard touchdown on the pass from Langan.
On the play call, Langan explained, “We knew we had to do something like that because they were starting stack the box when I got into games.” Connecting on that big pass play helped loosen up the Purdue defense the rest of the game, as they now had to respect the pass when Langan was under center.
There were many heroes in this game though. After Purdue answered the drive with a touchdown to go up 30-20 midway through the third quarter, Aron Cruickshank delivered with a 100 yard kick return for a touchdown that swung momentum towards Rutgers. On the next Purdue possession, Mohamed Toure made a tremendous read that resulted in the first interception of his career. Thanks to Langan, Rutgers never relinquished control of the game after that point.
He led Rutgers on a 9 play, 49 yard scoring drive in which he completed two passes and ran twice for 11 yards. Aaron Young finished the drive off with a 1 yard touchdown, giving the Scarlet Knights the lead at 34-30 with under four minutes left in the third quarter.
On the next drive, Langan ran for 47 yards on 10 carries and completed a 20 yard pass to Jones. His five yard toss to Bo Melton for what would have been a touchdown was called back due to pass interference on Jones. The 15 yard penalty pushed Rutgers back from the goal line and Sitkowski came in. Rutgers couldn’t get in the end zone on the 18 play drive, but Valentino Ambrosio kicked a 28 yard field goal to extend the lead to 37-30 with 7:09 left to play.
Despite it all, Langan’s best moment came in dramatic fashion, as Rutgers decided to try to seal the win by going for it on fourth and one with a chance to seal the victory. Purdue was out of timeouts, so if the Scarlet Knights converted, all they had to do was down the football and run the clock out. With 3:12 left on the game clock from the Purdue 45 yard line, even everyone watching the game from home knew that Langan’s number would be called.
No. 21 powered through and rushed for six yards on the play, imposing his will on Purdue defenders who were helpless to stop him. Three kneel downs later and Rutgers had won its second Big Ten road game in a season for the first time ever since joining the conference in 2014.
In regard to the play that iced the win, Langan said, “Situations like that is what makes football so great. Our men vs. their men. I remember right before the snap I just looked over at them all in the eyes and said ‘here comes Rutgers football.’ It was a great feeling for our o-line to get that push so that we could get the first down.”
Here comes Rutgers football. Here comes Johnny Langan, refusing to be denied.
In the win, Langan was a perfect 4 of 4 throwing the ball for 95 yards and a touchdown, while also running for 95 yards on 21 carries. After the game, he said “I’m just so thrilled about this win. We played really tough and we played our brand of football. Coach Gleeson says ‘we’re fast, we’re physical’ and that’s exactly what we did in the second half.”
Schiano commented on the difference Langan made in the victory, stating “As the game played out, Johnny became a great option for a four-minute offense. He did an unbelievable job with time of possession in the second half, how he competes and how hard he runs. I’m really happy for him.”
As to what is different about this team compared to last season, Langan remarked “We are so much more confident. We really trust the coaches. We trust each other. That’s just a major boost for all of us.”
On whether Langan ever considered transferring after losing his starting job from last season, he commented “It was never a question. I’m really committed to Rutgers football and I really like it here. I just want to do whatever I can do to help Rutgers win games. You ask me what position I play, I say I play offense. I’ll do whatever it takes to get that ball in the end zone.”
Schiano made it clear after the game that whenever Vedral is healthy enough to play, he’ll return as the starting quarterback. However, it’s clear that Langan is a permanent fixture in the offense moving forward, this season and beyond.
I was wrong. Langan has played well in special situations all season (six touchdowns total) and the win over Purdue was a culmination of a player who believes in himself and his teammates above all else. A football player first. Calling him gutsy doesn’t seem do him justice. Perhaps lionhearted will do.
I’m a convert. I now believe in Johnny Langan and I won’t ever doubt him again.